--:;How to Hold a Grudge; or, A Tale of Love and War.
He was the school's Forgivable. The preps forgave him for being in a band with emoes. The emoes forgave him for hanging out with the preps. The artists forgave him for being on the varsity football team, and the jocks forgave him for being head of the art club. Even the theatre group forgave him for not spending every Thursday after school at the Improv club, mostly because if he didn't perform in school musicals they'd never have an audience.
I refused to forgive him.
In seventh grade, he had knocked me down in the halls as he turned a corner. All my books and papers had spilled from my arms, including a pristine essay still hot from the printer. I remember it had rained that day, and the hall floors were slick from wet, muddy footprints— one of which now held my ruined essay. I had glared at him, even as he stooped, apologizing, to help me pick up my things. "Get away from me," I had hissed at him, grabbed my essay, and slipped off angrily down the hall, not looking back once.
For the rest of that year, I had gone out of my way to avoid him. For the most part, I was highly successful, until the last day of school, when he switched the lock on my locker with another. I know it was him because I had spent the whole afternoon of that half day trying out different combinations so I could empty out my locker. When I finally opened it, a note had been leaning jauntily against it, "With Love from Landon." written messily across it.
From then on, it was war. I did everything in my power to make his life hell. And after the first time he discovered that his project, mysteriously missing, had been captured by me, he retaliated with equal fervor.
—Until the beginning of tenth grade. By the fifth day of my sophomore year, everything had changed. By everything, I mean friends, the amount of work, the teachers, the strange new freedom allotted to students, the strange suspiciousness behind teachers' friendly eyes— even James Landon.
I passed him in the hall on my way to gym class, and steeled myself for a burst of derisive laughter from his friends, or a smirk, or something. Instead, I was hit with the hollow ache of silence as we passed each other and said nothing.
It was like someone had broken all the laws of physics around me. For three years, he and I had hated each other. I had thought our hatred was set in stone. Now, apparently, he was over it— or just using another tactic.
Next to me, my friend Gabrielle did a double take. "Was that… was that Landon who just walked by?"
I said nothing. Who knows what might have come from my mouth? My brain was whirling.
I swallowed. "Uh, yeah, it was."
She sighed, looking dreamy. "He's gone gorgeous," she said, then caught herself. "Uh, I mean, I still hate him…" She looked uncomfortable.
I shook it off. "He doesn't look any different to me… still arrogant, annoying, and ugly to boot."
Gabrielle laughed, then waved. "I'll see you later," she told me, turning into an English classroom. I shrugged my backpack more securely onto my shoulders and headed down the stairs.
Maybe he had just not seen me. Maybe he forgot what I looked like. I had changed a bit over the summer; my thick brown hair had grown longer and wavier, and the sun had bleached it to an almost-dirty blonde. And I had grown a bit taller. But my eyes were still blue, and my face still the same shape…
He probably hadn't seen me. That must have been it.
I reached the gym locker rooms just as the bell rang. Heading inside, I turned right at the girls' locker room door. Across the way, a very thick scent of Axe and (ugh) sweat emanated from the boys' locker room. I hurried into the smaller (and cleaner) locker room.
Linny greeted me from where she stood by the freshmen lockers. "Hey, Tia!" She waved me over. Linny was my best friend's sister, and I'd known her since I was in third grade. I knew her almost as well as Gemma.
I hurried over to her and slung my backpack down on the ground, reaching for my lock. "What's up?"
She pulled off her shirt and rummaged around in her locker for a t-shirt. "Nothing much. I just had science… I want to cry every time I enter that classroom." She pulled a tie-died cross country t-shirt over her head. "You should be so thankful you don't have Mrs. March for a teacher."
"You should be thankful you're not in AP Chem.," I told her dryly, pulling my own gym clothes from my locker. "It's only the second week and we're already swamped." I changed quickly, still a little self-conscious of changing in the same room as thirty other girls.
Linny took her time changing, and then neatly folded her regular clothes and locked them in her locker. "Well," she said, smirking, "You should have listened to Gemma when she told you taking an AP sophomore level class your freshmen year was a stupid idea, because then you'd have to take Chem. sophomore year." Laughing, she followed me out of the locker room and upstairs into the gym.
The gym was two stories high and separated into two parts: the old gym and the new gym. The old gym had three rows of bleachers only on the one side, while the new gym had six rows of bleachers on both sides and four basketball nets. I glanced around, taking in the faces of the various freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and the few seniors who hadn't yet fulfilled their two-year gym credits needed for graduation. Then I noticed Coach Wicklow, the head football coach. He was standing on the other side of the gym, talking with the other coaches, and his presence reminded me that I needed to pass in the Color Guard registration form to him by… yesterday.
"Shit," I whispered, glancing at Linny, "Listen, I'll be right back. I have to go get something from my backpack." She nodded, and I raced back down the stairs.
As the door to the stairs closed behind me, I heard two voices drifting down the hall. Two boys late to class, I thought absently, heading back toward the locker rooms. As I entered, the voices neared, and I realized just exactly who it was doing the talking.
Landon was in the boys' locker room, arguing with his best friend Ian Brocket.
I was about to head past and pretend I hadn't heard them when I heard my name. Pausing, I inched towards the open door.
"…didn't tell me? Dude, you hang out at my house every day of the summer! Why the hell shouldn't you tell me?" That was Ian, I realized.
There was a long pause. Then— "I didn't say anything to anyone about it! It's not like she'd care, anyway… she hates me." I blinked, leaning closer toward the door. Was he talking about me? I leaned my head around the door a little, feeling more than a little like a Peeping Tom. And then I recoiled back, leaning against the wall, when I realized that Landon was still changing.
Which meant, of course, no shirt. And boxers.
Which meant... bare chest. A chiseled, lean, very male chest. Apparently, all that football had paid off.
I gulped, and hurried into the girls' locker room before something bad happened. As I rifled through my backpack, searching for the form, I tried to ignore the annoying way my heart was beating too fast and too loudly, and the way my face, as I glanced in the mirror briefly, was bright red. And the way I couldn't get the image of him out of my eyes.
Slapping myself several times, wondering what was wrong with me, I left the locker room hurriedly. All I needed to do was get back upstairs without running into any more half naked boys.
And with that thought, I ran smack dab into Landon himself.
"Whoa-oah," he said laughingly, gripping my arms to keep me from falling. I glanced up at him, glad that he was fully dressed, highly disconcerted by the way his eyes were dancing under his long brown hair, and the fact that he was grinning without a hint of malice. But maybe he was acting. He didn't make the star role in last year's middle school drama for nothing.
"Let go of me," I snapped, backing away from him. "Don't touch me."
He grinned down from the five inches he had on me. "Don't worry," he told me, his tone friendly, "I won't try anything."
I snorted. "As if you could." I was suspicious— he was too nice, acting as if I was a friend, flirting with me… where were the insults? The hostility? The pranks?
He was still talking, his eyes warm. I couldn't concentrate on what he was saying; his words went dimly in one ear and out the other. I was too focused on the way his lips moved, forming the words, and the way the words sounded, warm and carefree.
The sound of my name pulled me back into reality. "What?" I snapped, trying to pull my thoughts together.
Landon looked down at me bemusedly. "You weren't listening, were you?" He didn't wait for an answer. Instead, he fished in his pockets for a moment, then pulled out a pen and a scrap of paper. "Here's my number," he said, scribbling something down, "In case you ever need anything."
I stared up at him, highly confused. "What?"
He grinned down at me as if he had not just totally bemused me. "Just in case," he said, and then wandered off down the hall, his hands thrust in his pockets, whistling. I stared after him, and then down at the paper he had thrust into my hand.
What the hell had just happened?
I stood in the hall for several minutes more, until the sound of several girls trotting down the stairs made me start. And then I cursed inwardly. Gym class!
Knowing I was probably too late, I raced back up the stairs, gripping the scrap of paper tighter in my hand and breathing hard. As I pushed open the door to the gym, I glanced at my watch, sighing in frustration. I was ten minutes late, which meant detention if I couldn't explain my way out of it.
And from the way my gym teacher Ms. Ryan was glaring at me, I was probably going to be spending forty-five minutes after school, in detention.
The bell rang, signaling the end of the school day. I started to smile, psyched that the day was over, and stopped. Oh. Right. Detention. On a Friday.
"Tia, d'you want to go to the mall later? I don't have anything to do tonight, so I figured…"
I slipped my notebook into my backpack and waved off Gemma's question. "Maybe later. I've got a det to serve."
Gemma nearly fell over in shock. "What? You?"
I nodded, shouldering my backpack and heading out the door. "I'll explain later," I said, and headed down the hall toward the detention room.
Once there, I slipped into a vacant seat in the back, dropping my bag down and pulling out the detention slip. I made my way to the front of the room, dropped the slip onto the proctor's desk next to several similar looking ones, and headed back to the desk I'd be sitting in for the next forty five minutes.
The door opened just as I sat down, and, much to my chagrin, James Landon entered, hands stuffed in his pockets. I stifled a groan. I didn't want to be near him, especially when he was acting so confusing. And, probably because he knew it would make me mad, he plunked his bag down in the seat next to mine, grinned, and headed up to the desk to hand over his detention slip.
Quietly, I slipped into the seat next to me instead, putting one seat between us.
He came back, noticed the new seating arrangements, quirked an eyebrow up, and sat in the seat I had just vacated.
So I moved over again.
And he followed.
And then the proctor glanced up, frowning. "Was there a sign on the door that said 'Musical Chairs Here'? Because I thought it said 'Detention'. Sit down and stay there or I'll add another detention to your list."
I slid deeper in my seat, embarrassed, but he saluted the teacher. "Sorry, Mrs. Stoker, won't happen again."
Then he pulled a slightly rumpled piece of wide-ruled paper from his backpack and scribbled something down with a chewed up looking pen. Then, glancing at the proctor surreptitiously, he slipped the note onto my desk.
I glanced at it. So what's up? It read, in messy handwriting.
I swiveled my head to look at him. He looked completely engrossed in a history textbook. I looked back at the note.
Why are you talking to me? I wrote, then passed the note back. At first, I didn't think he'd noticed it, but then his eyes flicked downwards.
Because we hate each other.
But I'm bored.
Deal with it.
There was a long pause before he reached for the pen again. Why are you in detention?
If I tell you will you stop sending me notes?
I sighed, earning a glare from the proctor. I was late to gym. Because of you, I might add.
Do you still have that paper I gave you?
I thought you'd throw it out.
Ah. That explains it. Listen, can I ask you a question?
I was about to reply with a scathing "No," when Mrs. Stoker appeared in front of my desk.
"I don't know," she said, "if you read the student handbook." She stared down at me, her eyes narrowed. I swallowed. "Because if you had you'd know that you are not allowed to correspond with anyone besides the detention proctor while in detention. As in…passing notes."
I sighed as she slammed another detention slip down on my desk. So this was why Landon had sat down next to me— to get me in another detention. I saw it now.
Next to me, I could swear he was smirking.
Monday afternoon, I walked into det hall, dropped my detention slip onto the desk, and took a seat. Then I sighed as he sat down in the seat next to me. "Is this going to become a routine, Landon?" I hissed, "Because if it is you should stop now. You're really starting to piss me off."
"Hey. Just figured I'd keep you company since it was my fault, really, for you being here today," he whispered back, and then settled into his seat, doodling absently on a scrap piece of paper. To my relief, he stayed this way for the rest of the forty five minutes. When the bell rang to signal the end of detention, he packed up his stuff and left, nodding to me as he passed. I sighed and followed him out the door.
I headed to the library, where I sat down for another half an hour to read A Separate Peace, which we were reading for English class and which I was enjoying very much.
After a while, I glanced at my watch and swore under my breath. The late bus would be here in about three minutes, which meant I had to get to the other side of the school, and quickly. I threw my book in my backpack, cursing as the zipper caught on my shirt and I had to wrestle to untangle myself.
I glanced up into the laughing eyes of James Landon, whom I really did not want to see just then. "No, I do not need help, thank you," I told him, my tone sharp.
He shrugged, thrusting his hands in his pockets. After a moment, just as I finally freed myself, he commented, "I have to talk to Coach for a moment, but if you want, I could give you a ride home…" As I slung my backpack onto my shoulder, he finished, "Because you aren't going to make the late bus at this point."
I glanced at the clock and sighed. He was right. I paused, calculating my options. I could get a ride home with him, or I could wait until six when my parents got home, or I could call Gemma and have her come get me.
Plan C was my best bet.
I glanced at him coldly. "No thanks," I said stiffly, reaching into my bag for my cell phone.
He shrugged. "Whatever. I'll be around for awhile… let me know if you change your mind."
I seriously doubted I would.
Two minutes later I hung up in frustration. It was Monday. Gemma had dance practice on Mondays. Which meant that I was going to have to wait until my mom left work to get a ride home. There was no way I was walking, and there was no way in hell I was taking Landon up on his offer.
I sighed and glanced at the clock. Three thirty two and twentyfive, twentysix, twentyseven seconds. I sighed again.
Three thirty three.
Three thirty four.
I tapped the toe of my sneaker on the ground, earning a dirty look from the librarian.
Three thirty seven.
"Fine," I hissed to myself, picking up my bag and leaving the library. I'd accept the offer from Landon. But I was only doing it because I had no other options. I made my way down the hall toward the gym.
Five minutes later, when I couldn't find him anywhere, I sighed, dropped my backpack, and knelt next to it. Somewhere, probably near the bottom, was the slip of paper he had given me, with his phone number on it. I rooted through my backpack until my fingers brushed it. I pulled it out and flipped open my cell phone.
"Three… two… five, one two… four…two," I muttered as I typed.
The dial rang five times before he picked up.
I cleared my throat. "Uh, Landon? It's… Tia."
There was a pause. "Hey."
"Um, so I… need a ride home. Are you still at the school?"
I heard a girl's voice in the background, "Who is it, James?"
Pausing, I clenched my fist. What was he doing with a girl? And then I gasped. Why did I care? It wasn't like his love life mattered to me. In fact, I was probably the least likely person in the entire school to care about Landon's relationships. So why was I so mad?
I decided not to mull over it. "Landon?"
"Couldn't you call me James?"
"No. Are you still at the school?"
"Uh," he said, the sound of his voice strange over the connection, "No."
"Oh… okay. Sorry to, uh, bother you—"
"No, no, stay there, I'll just turn around and get you."
The pause this time was shorter. "I can't make you hang there by yourself for three hours," he told me, "Stay there, I'm turning around right now. I'll be there in like three minutes." Before I could protest, he hung up.
Angrily, I balled the scrap of paper, still in my hand, and tossed it into a nearby trash can. Why I was angry, I didn't know, but it was confusing me.
I wandered to the front of the school and sat down on the steps, glancing around me. It was September, and the air had just begun to turn cold. I tucked my sweatshirt tighter around me and shivered.
An old, red Chevy truck pulled up and he rolled down the window. In the passenger seat was a pretty blonde girl I hadn't seen before. Again, I felt the anger from before, but I brushed it aside.
"Come on, get in," he said, motioning toward the back seat. I stood up and opened the door, climbing in and dropping my back on the seat next to me. The blonde girl smiled at me, and I smiled back, but it felt a little fake. Maybe I was just tired. That was probably it.
Landon changed gears, backing up and turning back around. "Christine, this is Tia. Tia, Christine's my little sister."
I grinned at her, suddenly feeling very relieved. "Hey," I said, "nice to meet you."
She smiled. "You too."
As we drove, I settled into the cloth seat and took in my surroundings. The car was warm, in that old-car sort of way, and there were small rents in the fabric which I could only guess were from years of use. The stereo didn't even have a CD player, but an MP3 player was hooked up and playing what I recognized as Aberdeen City— I was surprised, because I hadn't thought they were popular much.
I stared out the window, bored, and I jumped when Christine addressed me. "So, do you play any sports?"
"Uh," I said, "No. Well, I do color guard, but that's not really a sport."
"So you go to the football games?"
"Yeah," I said, looking at her brother, "But I never watch the game."
She carried on, oblivious. "That's okay. JV football never plays in Varsity games, anyway."
It was Saturday night, and Gemma and I were in her bedroom, waiting for our ride. We were both going to a party Missy Owens was throwing. Neither of us really knew her that well, but Nick, the boy who would probably be Gemma's boyfriend soon, knew Missy's brother, so… we were going.
Gemma rolled over onto her stomach from where she sat on the floor. "I can't believe she only gave you another detention and not that idiot Landon," she said, reaching for a magazine. I groaned, tossing a pillow at her.
"Did you have to remind me? I'm still mad."
She grinned, flipping through the pages of the magazine disinterestedly. "At least he won't be in detention again with you on Monday," she said, "so you don't have to worry about— Oh! A quiz!"
As she reached for a pen, I leaned over the side of the bed and grabbed the magazine. "I'll quiz you," I told her, glancing down at the page. Does He Like You? Take this quiz to find out! It proclaimed in big letters. I sighed, shaking my head. "Ready?"
Gemma nodded, handing me the pen. "Shoot."
"Question One: When you are with him, you find yourself mostly… a) Laughing, b) Doing stupid things and enjoying them, c) Smiling, or d) Yelling."
Gemma grinned. "B."
I circled it. "Okay. Question Two: At the last school dance, when he saw you in your sparkling red dress…" I stopped, looked at Gemma, and we both burst into laughter.
"Sparkling red dress?" she said between giggles, "It makes it sound like I was wearing some sort of wine."
I laughed. "Anyways… when he saw you in your sparkling red dress, he… a) asked you to dance, b) went silent and did not talk to you for the rest of the evening, c) laughed, or d) continued dancing with his girlfriend."
"Um," said Gemma, "Which dance should I use?"
I thought a moment, "How about Homecoming last year? You were wearing that red-ish… outfit…"
"It was a black tank top and jeans. But I'll go with it. Uh, A."
I glanced at her. "You danced with Nick?"
She grinned at me. "You, I think, were in the bathroom, avoiding Señor James Landon."
I raised my hand in protest. "He threatened to pour punch on my head! What else was I supposed to do?" Ignoring her answer of "Pour it on him first," I look back down at the magazine.
"Question Three," I read, "When you told him you dumped your last BF, he… a) grinned, b) asked you out, c) didn't care, or d) tripped and fell flat on his face.
Gemma stared at me. I stared at Gemma. Then we groaned.
"D," we said at almost the same time, both of us picturing how Nick had fallen down a whole flight of stairs after Gemma broke up with that 'scumbag' Thom. We had laughed over it for weeks.
Linny opened the door and stuck her head in. "Nick's here," she said laughingly, as he shoved his way past her and flopped down on the floor next to Gemma. Linny grinned at me, and then shut the door.
"Ugh," sighed Nick, staring at the ceiling, "Some ass-hole almost hit me coming out of his driveway."
Gemma made a sympathetic noise and looked at me pointedly. I took the hint. "Uh, I have to go use the bathroom," I told them, and slipped out the door.
Linny was leaning against the wall outside, grinning. "Has he asked her out yet?" she whispered, her eyes dancing. Unlike my little sister Sandra, Linny was not the kind of sister who held crushes or boyfriends against her sister. So I felt no reservations against informing her that, no, he had not asked her out yet.
"He'll probably do it tonight, though," I told her, sitting down on the stairs next to her. "That's why I left the room."
She leaned back against the stairs above us, sighing. "She really does like him," she said, contemplatively. Then she sat up again and looked at me. "Why were you so long coming back from the locker room on Friday?"
I groaned. "I ran into Landon," I told her, not wanting to elaborate.
"And, he said some really weird stuff and then walked off."
Linny looked confused. "What?"
I sighed. "I'd rather not go into the details, but he was just really confusing. I don't know." I sighed again, and then jumped when the door to Gemma's door opened and she and Nick came out. Both looked flushed. Linny and I gave each other knowing looks and stood up.
"Tia?" asked Nick, "I thought you had to go to the bathroom?"
I cleared my throat. "I, uh, changed my mind." I glanced at Gemma, who was positively glowing. When she grinned at me, utterly happy, I took it to mean that he had, indeed, asked her out, and she'd said yes. I grinned back at her.
I wandered into the packed kitchen of Missy Owens's house, bored. Gemma had disappeared with Nick half an hour ago, and none of the rest of my friends had shown up. I considered pouring myself a glass of punch, until I remembered that I had been warned it was spiked. I settled for a glass of tap water, and was pouring it when I noticed a familiar mop of long brown hair. Attempting to leave the room before he noticed, I swore internally when he called out my name.
"Tia!" I turned around slowly, glaring.
He pushed his way through the crowd towards me, stopping only a few feet from me and looking at me slowly, up and down. I flushed, knowing that the shirt I was wearing hugged my curves and I was wearing jeans that were just tight enough to be flattering, and the way he was looking at me was embarrassing. I snapped my fingers in front of my face.
"I'm up here," I told him.
To my surprise, he turned faintly pink, and his eyes snapped up. "Sorry," he said, then brightened. "Want to dance?"
No, I thought, I'd rather dance with Mr. Haggerson, the principal, than you.
"Sure," I said, and then blinked. What?!
He looked as surprised as I felt. But he recovered quickly, leading me into the large, spacious living room which served as a dance floor. Reluctantly, I followed, confused and angry at my traitorous mouth for saying things I didn't mean. But now that I had agreed I couldn't back down.
Missy had hired a deejay for the party, and as we stepped into the darkened room, the music changed from some fast paced rave-type music to a slower, obviously slow-dance type song. I groaned inwardly. Great.
Landon stopped walking and turned to me, placing his hands lightly on my hips. I refused to move. He grinned down at me. "Dancing involves movement," he said, and draped my arms across his shoulders. I wrapped them around his neck reluctantly and glared at him.
He didn't seem to notice. He dropped his hands to my waist again, wrapping his arms around me instead of just placing his hands on my hips like he had before. I pulled away, and he pulled me back. "At least pretend to enjoy it," he said reproachfully, and pulled me closer.
I sighed into his shoulder.
As the song progressed, I felt myself relax despite myself. He seemed content with simply dancing, occasionally whispering comments in my ear about entirely random things.
"Enjoying yourself?" he asked me, his breath tickling my ear.
"No," I shot back, refusing to admit that leaning against him was highly comfortable.
There must have been something in my voice, because I could hear his smile as he replied, "I see."
I pulled back, just enough to look him in the eye. "Just because I said I'd dance with you doesn't mean I like you," I told him angrily, infuriated by the amused look in his eye.
"I know it doesn't," he said, patronizingly, "But you wouldn't have agreed to dance if you hated me."
"I hate you," I informed him, although I noticed we were still moving in time with the song. I refused to admit that maybe I didn't hate him as much as I thought I did.
"Why?" he asked me, pulling me against him again. I struggled for a moment, but when he didn't let go, I gave up and leaned against him.
"Because we've always hated each other."
"Not sixth grade." His breath was warm against my ear, causing a small shiver to run through me. A shudder, I corrected myself, a shudder. At how gross it is how he's breathing down my neck. But even in my head it sounded too defensive.
I tried to sound careless. "We didn't know each other in sixth grade."
He laughed. "No, we didn't. But that still doesn't answer my question."
"You started it," I told him, sounding like a child.
He pulled his head back to look at me. "Started what?"
"The pranks. The hatred. The name-calling."
"How? By bumping into you in the halls?"
So he remembered. "No," I said, truthfully. "By locking my locker with your lock and keeping me at school for four hours extra. On the last day of school."
Landon looked genuinely confused. "What are you talking about?"
I frowned up at him. We weren't dancing now. "You know what I'm talking about."
He shook his head. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"No?" I asked, loudly, "Then why was there a note signed by you in my locker, saying it was you who did it? Or did you forget that part of your brilliant little plan?"
The song ended, and I left the room angrily. He was aggravating me on purpose, and he knew it. He knew exactly what I was talking about, and if he thought he could make me madder by pretending, well he was sure doing a wonderful job. He was so… ugh! He made me so mad!
Gabrielle popped the trunk of her car as me, Gemma, and Chrysene tumbled out the back seat, grumbling. She grinned at us. "Good thing the trunk's big enough to fit all five flags," she said, pulling them out one by one. Gemma muttered something about having to sit in the fold-down seat next to the flag tips.
Chrysene glanced at her watch. "Uh, guys? We're late."
I groaned. "Gabby, I told you we'd be late," I said, lifting my flag from the trunk and rolling it tighter around the pole. "Let's go before Mrs. Pica notices we're late."
We trooped into the school through a side door, following the gym hall into the gym. Because we were technically a sport, we were allowed to use the gym for practice a couple of times a week. This was a blessing. Shani, a veteran senior, still told tales of a Day Long Ago when the color guard was a sad four-member team and they weren't even allowed to use the auditorium to practice in.
The gym was warm, no doubt caused by the five or so hours of sweaty kids in basketball practice or something like that. Gemma and I both stopped by the bleachers to drop off our cell phones and take off sweatshirts.
"I always forget it gets so hot in here," she muttered, smoothing her short brown hair down from where it had stuck up in the back due to the sweatshirt.
We took up our flags again and headed out into the open space of the gym, where most of the color guard members had already assembled. Mrs. Pica, who served more as a general chaperone than anything else, stood off the side, watching us.
I tossed the flag into the air. Since the first day I joined the team, tossing had been second nature to me. I loved the feeling that the beautiful ripple of the silk moving in the air was because of me. I loved the look of the silk itself. I loved the feeling of power I had over the pole, and the feeling that, despite the fact that we were only performing in support of the football players, all the audience was captivated by the flag.
Reaching out to grab the pole as the flag came down, I gave a small yelp as it clattered to the floor. A few feet away, Chrysene glanced at me. "You alright, Tia?"
I shrugged. "Yeah."
Picking up the flag, I tossed it in the air again, angry at myself for dropping it. The last time I dropped the flag, I had seen Landon in the middle of the football team, making faces at me.
CLANG! The flag hit the ground again. I sighed.
Today just probably wasn't my day.
At the end of practice, I had dropped the flag sixteen times, caught it five, and fumbled in the middle of several very easy moves, and I was not in a very good mood. Practice hadn't been so bad since… well, the first practice of freshmen year. I shook my head and hurried from the gym, aiming to completely miss seeing James Landon altogether; they had finished practice fifteen minutes earlier and had time to change.
Lady Luck is a fickle woman.
I pushed the door open and stepped out into the cold night air, groaning softly as I noticed him leaning against the wall. Thinking quickly, I tried to back inside the school again, but he saw me and stepped forward, grasping my arm.
"Let go of me," I snapped, wrenching out of his grasp.
He glared at me. "We need to talk," he said, his voice deceptively calm.
"Too bad. I don't—"
He cut me off, eyes flashing. "You, Tia, have gone way too far, and you're really starting to piss me off," he told me, pulling me out the door and shutting it behind me. He was standing too close for my comfort, but he had me backed against the wall and there was nothing I could do short of pushing him. "When you started all this crap," he said, "I was fine with it. I reciprocated. I insulted you. You insulted me. Fine. But the minute I try to stop, and be friends, you don't. You keep acting like we're twelve year olds. "
He ran a hand through his hair, not once taking his eyes from mine. "So fine. Okay. I understand. To a point. But then you accuse me of something I didn't do… that's low, Tia, that's what it is."
I started at the accusation. "I didn't lie," I snapped, "I found the note in my locker. Don't try to worm your way out of it. I still have the note!" It was true. I kept the note, and whenever I started to think that maybe he and I should stop fighting, I'd take it out and be all angry again. "I still have it! It had your name on it, and you left it in my locker."
"I did not!" He exclaimed. "So maybe you did find a note, but I didn't write it! Okay? I didn't do it."
My chin snapped up. "Why should I believe you?"
"Because what would I have against you? Yeah, so you were bitchy that time I bumped into you. But do you seriously believe that I would stew over that for an entire school year? Obviously, Tia, you don't know me at all." With these words he had suddenly gotten very close to me, and I swallowed. I had to crane my head up to look him in the eye.
"Well," I said, my voice low, "Maybe because we've been fighting for three years?"
Landon looked down at me, all the anger drained out of him. "Yeah. Maybe." He paused, looking uncertain. Then his face broke into a slow smile. "Couldn't we just, you know, stop? Be friends?"
When I didn't say anything, he sighed. "Look, I haven't wanted to keep fighting since the end of freshmen year. Okay? It takes too much energy. "
I sighed. "I guess. But we'd suck at being friends."
He grinned. "We would, wouldn't we?"
He was much too close. The street lamp, which cast a circular pool of light nearby, was throwing shadows across his face, making his expression unreadable. Nevertheless, I knew he wasn't joking anymore.
Without warning, he closed the gap between us, moving both hands to rest on the wall on either side of my head and leaning in close. I stared up at him. "What are you doing?" I asked him, trying to ignore the way my heart was racing from the proximity.
He stared down at me for a moment. "I'm going to kiss you," he said, his voice barely more than a whisper. It wasn't a question.
And with that warning he leaned the rest of the way forward and placed a light, feathery kiss on my lips.
It had not come as a surprise, but I was shocked by the feel of his lips on mine and the shiver it sent racing down my spine, and the way his breath mingled with mine when he pulled back. Warmth flooded through me despite the cold, and could feel my arms itching to wrap around his neck.
"Oh," I said, in a small voice. And then his lips were on mine again, harder this time, and the realization flooded through me: it hadn't been about anger in years.
He stepped back suddenly, shoving his hands in his pockets, his face turned away. I crossed my arms, suddenly cold. Landon, why—"I began, but he cut me off.
"I'm sorry," he said, not looking at me, "I… I shouldn't have done that, I wasn't thinking— I just," he waved his hands around in the air, looking as flustered as I felt. And then I realized that, in my shock, I hadn't kissed him back— and I had called him Landon, as if I still hated him.
"James,: I said, just to see if I could. And then, because I had been able to say his first name, I stepped towards him and grabbed his arm. "James,"
He turned to look at me, his face an odd mixture of emotions which I couldn't even start to decipher. "Tia," he began, his voice low.
The door to the school opened, and we jumped apart, looking anywhere but at each other. Gemma, straightening her sweatshirt, looked up and then glanced between us, her eyebrows raised. "Coming?" She asked me, handing me my flag. "You left it in the gym," she explained, her eyes still glancing suspiciously at both of us.
As we drove off, both of us in the back seat as Gemma's mom drove out of the parking lot, I glanced back. He was still leaning against the wall. I sighed.
Gemma looked at me, grinning mischievously. "What were you two doing?"
I didn't look at her. "Nothing."
There was a pause, during which Gemma raised her eyebrows at me. "So you were just standing there in the five minutes it took for me to get out of the gym?"
She nodded, and then, to my surprise, said, "He kissed you, didn't he?"
In the front seat, Mrs. Williamson coughed. "Aren't you a little young to be kissing?"
I glared at Gemma. "I wasn't kissing anyone! We were just talking!"
She snorted. "Yeah, okay."
I crossed my arms and frowned out the window, knowing that she was completely right. He had kissed me, whether I liked it or not (I did) and there was nothing I could do about it. And I didn't know where we stood with each other. Was I supposed to say hi to him if we passed in the halls? Were we supposed to still act like we hated each other?
Closing my eyes, I could still feel his lips on mine. I shook my head slightly, knowing that in the dark of the car Gemma couldn't see me, and brought my fingers up to my lips. Feeling terribly confused, I exhaled slowly. Boys. They weren't worth all the trouble they caused.
I was lying on my bed later that night, staring at the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling, when my sister gave a yell from downstairs. "TIA, there's somebody at the door for you! It's a BOY!"
I sat bolt upright, too surprised to be embarrassed at Sandra's lack of tact. My first thought was James. He must be here to apologize, I thought. Then I stopped. It was probably just Nick, wondering where to take Gemma on a date. Or maybe even Eric, my lab partner. Whoever it was, it couldn't be who I hoped it was.
I grabbed my sweatshirt and pulled open my bedroom door, blinking a bit in the sudden light. Hopping down the stairs, I pulled my sweatshirt, zipping it up against the cold that was seeping in through the open front door. At the bottom, my sister grinned at me, in a way which I knew meant trouble later. I glared at her, pushing her out of the way, and looked out the front door.
James Landon stood there, his hands stuffed in his pockets. I stepped out, closed the door behind me, and crossed my arms. "What," I deadpanned, "do you want?"
He looked down at his hands for a long time. "I, um, talked to Ian," he told me abruptly.
I stared at him. "So?"
"So, uh, you know how you said that I did that whole locker thing?" He sounded awkward, as if this wasn't what he had meant to say, but it had come out anyway.
Landon swallowed angrily. "A couple of my friends did it; this whole thing has just been a joke to them, 'Hey let's make that girl James likes really mad at so that they can just have a big fight for a long time, that would be really funny wouldn't it?' and they didn't even think to tell me. So, yeah, it was my fault, sorta, but I didn't do it. So I'm, uh, sorry for getting mad at you…" This last sentence sounded a little choked, as if difficult to say; boys, in general, find it hard to apologize.
For a long time, I had known it would come down to this. This final apology, where I would have to choose— forgive him? Or not? For some reason, it seemed highly crucial, my answer. My pride was at stake, and my relationship with him. I blinked, thinking. And then I did a mental double-take.
"Wait," I said, running back through his words, "The girl you like?" Even to me, my words sounded hopeful.
He looked up at me, all trace of the previous awkwardness gone. Taking a deep breath, he nodded. "Yeah," he said, eyes fixed on my face.
My heart was pounding, so loudly that I was afraid he'd hear it if I opened my mouth. So, instead, I moved closer to him, gripping the fabric of his flannel button-down shirt in one hand and placing my other hand in the hollow where his shoulder connected to his neck. "I forgive you," I whispered, and pulled him down into a kiss.
He stood tense for a moment, clearly unsure as to what to do. Then he sighed against my lips and wrapped his arms around me, holding me tight.
After what seemed like an eternity, he pulled away, his arms still around me, gazing down at me happily. "So that's how it is, is it?"
I grinned up at him, warm even against the cold September night air. "You make it hard to hold a grudge," I explained, and then he leaned down to kiss me again.
The squeaky front door swung open, and Sandra stuck her face out. For the second time tonight, I found myself faced with a raised set of eyebrows. "You know Dad said no dating until you get out of college," she told me, looking smug, "Just wait 'till I tell him, Tia."
I looked at her, calculating. Then I said, stepping away from James. "Three chocolate bars."
Sandra crossed her arms. "Six, and computer right-of-way for a year."
I gaped at her. "A year? A week, and four chocolate bars."
"A month. Four and a half."
Grinning at the confused look on James's face, I nodded, reaching out a hand. "Done." Sandra and I shook on it, and she disappeared back into the house. I turned back to him, smiling smugly. "She won't tell," I told him.
I still like to think he looked stunned by my bartering skills.
note; written long ago and not recently edited, so probably crap.
JUDGE ME NOT BY THIS. :D